My name is Matimbe Coronado. I am half polish, half Nigerian. My mother was a refugee from the second world war prison camps when she moved to Nigeria and met my father, a shoe salesman on the countryside near what is called Macaw. They lived there for thirteen years before conceiving me.
Before I was born, there was a lot of war. There was much violence. So much that even in a far away place such as Africa one could hear the bombs, and the screams. My mother would sometimes break down and cry in the fields. I didn’t know what to do when she did. I was just a baby.
It is not easy being an African mixed breed. Especially one that is Jewish. In people’s eyes, even all these years after the great war, we are still blamed for causing the war. I cannot understand how one could do that. I cannot blame those who died in the camps. Women and children who hardly had a chance to live. I cannot blame them. Because I am one of them.
My mother would tell of her time in the camps, but it was never a complete story. Just one where she would begin to speak, as if the whole room were listening, regardless if any people were actually there. I cannot remember a time she ever talked about the things that happened to her. I do not want to know, I think. And I do not ask.
My father was a mercantile merchant who rode on the war ships headed east and traded with both sides of the war. He was not political in that way. Survival, he said, is paramount to politics. And in those times, it was this idea that kept him from going insane with hunger, gave him strength, and left him afraid enough to know that death is as unforgiving as life.
I saw a picture of a hill of a thousand shoes one day in Time Magazine. It was an innocent enough picture. But what was truly disturbing about it was the feet that had gone missing from them. They belonged to the holocaust victims. The laces were left untied, the feet freshly removed from them before stepping into god knows where to meet their certain fate. When I showed the picture to my father, he looked away. He might have felt guilty in some way, I do not know.
By the time I reached puberty, I was too tall. I stood six foot seven at thirteen. To any man that is a giant. But to most teenagers that is myth. I could not blend in easily. My feet were as long as tobacco leaves, my arms and legs so thin that my clothes more or less revolved around my body as I walked in windy days across the savanna. And I walked everywhere.
Before long, I began to run. And I was surprised at how many boys and men I would encounter the nights I would decide to sneak out from my window and run by the light of the moon. There were so many doing the same thing as me. Wildlings, I began to call them. Running from something maybe. Maybe just to catch the wind.
One day, I slid out of bed, tied the thin reeds for shoes around my feet, and walked into my mother’s bedroom where she slept. I kissed her lightly on the forehead as not to wake her.
“Mama, I am leaving. I will return one day, I promise.”
Then I blew out the candle on the kitchen table, grabbed a small pack I had made of hard jerky, and walked out the front door to stare up at the night sky. It was so bright. Millions of stars twinkled and reflected on the long dark plain in front of me. I could not disguise my anguish from the heavens, and I began to cry. Not hurriedly, but carefully I put one foot in front of the other and began to trot down the dirt lane of my village.
I was sixteen when I left, and I have never been back.
Do men deserve an easy destiny? I have often wondered this question during my travels. Although, I am no philosopher, I think that if one thinks about a certain question for so long, one might become one. Even if it’s just for the one question. Why is there good, and bad. Why must men feel pain. In our bodies we have it. In our hearts. It must mean that something better exists.
Three months after I left Macaw, my village was destroyed by a war. It was not war made on them, but they were just in the way, I suppose. It was a tribal clash. One leader was trying to take over the lands South of the major towns, and those who considered Macaw as part of their lands refused to relinquish this border. I was on a sailing ship when I received word of it through a deckmate who’d grown up in the lands before me.
That night, I stood on the stern on the boat and cried out at the sky. For forgiveness. I did not expect an answer. But to the north I did see a falling star trace its way across the heavens, falling like a tear down the cheek of the universe.
I stayed for four months aboard the Wisconsin. It was a schooner ship, packed with freight headed for the West. The Carribeans. It was 1972. And although I had come in peace, it was to the middle of a war older than even the grandfathers of the lands could recall.
The first thing I did once I found my way off the ship was look for food. One would think that in such a place food would be abundant, but that was not the case. People here were starving in the streets. The thousands of dogs on the island had no masters and competed with the people for leftover fish and grain scattered along the dry docks. Military persons marched the streets with large guns and every so often a riot would start up suddenly, then end after a series of shouts and gun shots. I found myself hiding those first few days, among the slums and trash of the city, down in the sewers with the rats, at turns eating them then talking to them for company. I was a stranger, and the people here could no better understand my language than the rat’s.
I met a man one day. His name was Rebdee. A Jamaican who had come to Haiti looking for work and had lost everything due to the war. Or so he said. He found me asleep under a pile of trash in the gutters near where there were residential apartments, and he offered to take me in.
Rebdee was crippled. He had a missing leg and half of his face was scarred badly, but he never failed to smile it seemed. Even as he listened to me grunt and try to communicate where I was from, he would nod and listen even harder. He looked me up and down. And I did not know it then but he was gaining ideas about me. He stood up painfully and clapped his hands together over his crutches.
He pointed over my head and below my feet, and I understood what he meant. He noticed my height.
He made to run with his arms swinging back and forth, and he laughed.
I nodded. I felt relief come over me. I understood what he was saying. He wanted to know if I ran.
I laughed, “Yes!” I did run. I lept up and Rebdee nearly fell over backwards. I cried out with all my might in my foreign tongue. “I run!”
Rebdee was startled. But the smile soon returned to his face. He pointed at his own chest.
“You. Show me?”
I did not want to. I suddenly became very depressed and collapsed back on the small wooden chair. Rebdee did his best to comfort me, but I impatiently waved him away. I wanted nothing more than to be alone at that moment. I could have died that night, and I wouldn’t have cared. But, as if there was something wilder and stronger than I living in my chest, I felt a drive to survive like never before, and then that night I did run.
I was fearless. I had nothing to lose. I ran through the ghettos. The tents lined up like flapping cities in the wind, the fires choking the air through them, the people talking, clamoring, yelling as I ran by. I felt fire in my legs as the dirt roads turned into jungle and before long I found a cliff in the night. It overlooked a hundred foot drop off to the ocean. And if the moon had not of been there I might have leapt right off the side into the water. But I stopped and shouted at the top of my lungs my mother’s name, my father’s name, for my home, my country, and for myself.
I am old now. For many years I stayed in Haiti. I even became quite famous for playing soccer, the national sport, and a couple years later I lead the Haitian team to the World Cup Finals.
Over time, I became a different person. No longer was I the stringy boy who had come on a ship from a distant land, lost, and could not speak the language. Now I considered Haiti to be my home land. It took me years of gaining strength and learning to let go to appreciate the here and now in life.
But I never will forget my mother, and my father, and those who I met out on the great African plain, so long ago. The Wildlings. I still call out to them sometimes when I run. To those who are still running under that starry blanket of space, lost in time. And I wonder, who are they? They are you and me.